When I asked Bettye Dew what the AGM was like, she told me it was hard to describe. “You’ll see,” she said, mysteriously. And I did: the rousing plenary speakers, excellent breakout sessions, and dozens of women (plus a few men), dressed as Austen characters. An Elizabeth Bennet lookalike sat next to me, and I admired her dress. “I’ve got 34 more at home,” she confided.
The convention unfolded like clockwork. At Brooklyn’s Marriott Hotel, meeting rooms hosted reticule workshops, quilling sessions (I took one, and it has nothing to do with quills), and the astonishing Emporium. There, vendors from all over the world sold Austen-related fans, jewelry, books, clothing, tea sets, stationery, and fascinators. One did a brisk business in baseball shirts with numbers on the back and names like Darcy or Knightley, instead of Jeter or Rodriguez.
My favorite moments? I was enthralled by Cornel West’s high-energy riff on Jane Austen. A Vassar College concert, held at Henry Ward Beecher’s historic Plymouth Church, was truly glorious, with some Austen-related poems set to music for the occasion. I loved a walking tour of Brooklyn Heights, led by an architectural historian, on which we saw early 19th-century homes and some only-in-New York oddities, such as a group of Japanese tourists, dressed as wolves.
With such sights a part of their daily diet, jaded New Yorkers scarcely blinked at the lovely “promenade” of costumed Janeites. Another highlight for me was a play — the “Austen Assizes,” written by Syrie James and Diana Birchall — in which a series of Austen defendants square off against their rivals in an 1816-era courtroom. It was hilarious. Mrs. Bennet accused Lady Catherine of defamation; Col. Brandon berated Willoughby for stalking his wife; Fanny insisted that Lucy Steele had entrapped her brothers – and then, in a surprise ending, Robert took the stand to accuse Lucy of attempted murder!
For this first-timer, the conference was a hoot, with lots of entertainment and dozens of friendly people. Next year is Minneapolis! I urge you to give it a try, costumed or not. Believe me, you’ll see…
The 2013 Annual General Meeting (AGM) will be held in Minneapolis, MN, September 27th-29th. Please visit JASNA for further information.